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Red-Light Cameras: Do They Prevent Deadly Accidents?

Most people cringe when they hear the phrase “red-light cameras.” Likely, they received a ticket in the mail from a red-light camera.  It is safe to say that people rarely have anything good to say about red-light cameras. Some have alleged that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. However, public opinion toward red light cameras may begin to shift for the better. A recent study found that getting rid of red-light cameras may have fatal consequences.

Red-light cameras: saving lives?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that red light cameras saved about 1,300 lives through 2014. A lot of the crashes that happen at intersections happen because people run red lights. In 2014, red-light running caused 709 deaths and about 126,000 injuries. However, those killed in such accidents generally did not run the red lights. It is usually a pedestrian, passenger, other driver, or bicycler. The rationale behind red-light cameras is that there are not enough police officers to sit at intersections to prevent people from running red lights. Some argue that red-light cameras discourage people from running red lights if people know they may receive a ticket. The effect of these cameras is that they reduce the number of fatal accidents that occur each year.

Which Suburbs Have Red-Light Cameras?

According to the Daily Herald, the 123 red-light cameras at 76 intersections in 32 suburbs generated more than $12 million in 2014. The following suburbs showed revenue from red-light cameras:

  • Des Plaines
  • Palatine
  • Wheeling
  • Prospect Heights
  • Elk Grove Village
  • Algonquin
  • East Dundee
  • Hoffman Estates
  • Roselle
  • Addison
  • Carol Stream
  • Lake Zurich
  • Wauconda
  • Rolling Meadows
  • Libertyville

What happens when towns remove the red-light cameras?

A recent study found that fatal crashes increased dramatically when towns turn off or remove red-light cameras. Unfortunately, about 158 communities across the United States have ended their red-light camera programs in the past five years. The IIHS compared annual crash rates in 14 cities that ended their red-light camera programs with twenty-nine cities that continued the programs. They found that red-light running crashes increased by 30%.

Additionally, all other types of crashes at intersections increased as well. This suggests that the cameras deter other types of bad behavior at intersections. Although cities continue to launch red-light camera programs, the total number of communities with red-light cameras fell to 467 in 2015 from 533 in 2012. Motorists get angry when they see red-light cameras or hear about them, but many of them do not know how important the cameras are and how many lives the cameras save each year. Experts cannot tie an exact number of lives saved. However, the data shows an increase in the number of lives taken after towns turn the cameras off.

Complaints about red-light cameras

Most people complain about the red-light cameras because the cameras automatically issue a ticket. Then a motorist must to pay a fine. Many people complain that towns use red-light cameras to help raise money rather than enhance safety. But a recent study shows that the cameras keep motorists safe on the road by deterring people from running red lights. Recently, a class-action lawsuit that sought to end Chicago’s red-light camera program was filed in Chicago.

The lawsuit challenged the legality and constitutionality of the red light cameras, but it it was tossed out by a Cook County judge. It appears that red-light cameras are here to stay so long as the recent trend of cities getting rid of them does not continue. Some studies have revealed that red-light cameras increase the number of car accidents that occur at an intersection. This is because motorists race through yellow lights trying to avoid being ticketed and end up rear-ending the vehicle in front of them. With that being said, rear endings are less deadly, and far fewer fatalities happen because of a rear-ending.

A level-headed solution

In order to have a red-light camera at an intersection, there should be data that supports the use of a red-light camera. If an intersection has a history of a high number of fatalities, then a red-light camera may stop people from running red lights. Otherwise, if an intersection has no history of fatal accidents, then one could argue that the city uses the red-light camera for revenue. Towns should remember to try to save lives and not ticket motorists with red-light cameras.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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